But the problems extend further than just injuries. The play-calling and play designs have been poor. The Packers have changed play-callers recently, back to head coach Mike McCarthy, but that hasn’t helped what has become a very vanilla offense. They’ve become far too dependent on Aaron Rodgers and his ability to go off-script and extend plays.
Here against the Raiders in Week 15, Green Bay faces a third-and-long situation. The Packers split three receivers to the right in a bunch formation, isolating one receiver on the back side of the play. They run a spacing concept from the bunch formation, with a slant-flat combination on the back side.
The Raiders play man coverage, which should tell Rodgers to go to the slant. But Rodgers misses the slant route and has to move on to his next read.
As Rodgers progresses to his next read, he finds he has nobody open. The Packers’ route combinations don’t work well with each other. Randall Cobb runs a crossing route from the bunch formation, but ends up running to the same spot as the slant route. The Raiders have a plug defender that sits in the middle of the field reading Rodgers. He drops back and takes away both Cobb and the original slant route. The Packers don’t use one route to help open another. Instead, they mostly run multiple isolation routes and hope their receivers can win one-on-one matchups.
On the front side of the play, the outside receiver runs a deep out, which is covered well. Inside, the receiver runs a comeback but can’t get any separation. Rodgers has nobody to throw to as the pocket begins to collapse. But this is where Rodgers is special. As the play breaks down, he begins to scramble, buying his receivers time to get open.
Initially, every receiver takes off down the field as part of the scramble drill. Two receivers even collide because of the poor route design that had them aim for the same part of the field.
But then Cobb makes a smart play. He breaks back towards Rodgers, surprising the defense and creating separation.
Rodgers finds Cobb wide open over the middle. Cobb is then in the perfect position to pick up extra yards after the catch. So while the Raiders initially covered the play well, Rodgers and the scramble drill led to a completed pass and a first down.
This play has been typical of the Packers’ offense this season. The route combinations aren’t particularly inventive and receivers aren’t winning one-on-one matchups until they are able to freelance in the scramble drill. That has been the source of many big plays for Rodgers and the Packers, but it’s not a reliable or sustainable form of offense.
This is another example of an unimaginative play design. The Packers have each receiver run a deep hook route.
At the top of Rodgers’s drop, the only receiver close to being open is the tight end in the middle of the field. But he has a safety close by and the underneath linebacker could undercut the throw.
With no receivers open, Rodgers has to scramble to avoid the impending pass rush. Just like before, the Packers’ receivers start to freelance. Cobb breaks down the field.
But Rodgers just slightly overthrows him. The Packers were also lucky that there wasn’t a collision between their two receivers on that play. Like on the previous play, both were in similar positions in the field and made similar moves as Rodgers scrambled.
With the Packers’ offense being so bland, defenses have been able to play simple coverages and cause the Packers trouble. The most effective coverage I’ve seen recently has been what I call cover-one plug.
Cover-one plug is a form of man coverage but with two zone defenders. Each eligible receiver has an assigned defender in coverage, but the defense also plays with one deep safety and one underneath zone defender, usually a linebacker. That linebacker’s job is to spy on the quarterback, but also take away crossing routes, which are typically run against aggressive man coverage defenses.
The Packers’ receivers haven’t shown the ability to consistently beat man coverage this season, which is what has forced Rodgers to try and scramble so often. With the plugger spying the quarterback, he is also in a position to chase down Rodgers should he opt to scramble for yards by himself. This isn’t a coverage I have seen regularly from the Redskins’ defense, but it’s one they might choose to adopt for this particular matchup, given its effectiveness against the Packers recently.
One way the Packers have been creative this year is using quick screens as an extension of the running game. With Rodgers under center, there is always potential for him to surprise the defense from what looks to be a run play. The Packers have a number of packaged plays that combine a run play with a quick screen pass, giving Rodgers the option to run or pass depending on the pre-snap look of the defense.
Here, the Packers use their favored 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers). Cobb lines up in the slot and runs a bubble screen. But the Packers also have a zone running play called to the right of the formation.
As the safety reads run and attacks the line of scrimmage, Rodgers turns and throws the screen to the left side.
Cobb is an elusive player who is hard to bring down. He eludes the tackle attempt here with a stiff arm and picks up a first down.
There are also times where the play called is purely a run, but Rodgers and his receivers might improvise against certain looks.
This time, Rodgers lines up under center on a run play to the left. But he spots the corner to the right playing about 10 yards off the receiver.
After the snap, the majority of the offense executes the original play call, but Rodgers pulls up and quickly throws the ball out to his receiver.
That quick pass isolates the receiver one-on-one with the defender with plenty of room to work with. The Raiders actually do a pretty good job rallying to the ball and making the tackle, but they fail to prevent the first down. The Packers like to do this a lot in the red zone, to add pressure to the corners isolated in coverage. Historically the Redskins’ corners haven’t been particularly good tacklers, but this season they have improved in that regard. If they play off coverage in the red zone, they need to be ready to break on these types of throws and make sound tackles.
After last season and the first six weeks of this season, nobody would have wanted to face the Packers’ offense in the playoffs. But since their bye week, the offense has regressed. Rodgers’s yards per attempt over the past four weeks is 5.8, down drastically from the 8.1 average he had after the first six games. That stat speaks to how far the Packers’ offense has fallen. Unless they have a drastic turnaround, the Redskins won’t have the same fear they might have carried had they played the Packers from last season.
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